Youth Harness the Power of Media for Justice in New Mexico

Ludella Awad (right) and Muatazz Assad participate in creating the Generation Justice radio program. Photo courtesy Generation Justice.

Ludella Awad (right) and Muatazz Assad participate in creating the Generation Justice radio program. Photo courtesy Generation Justice.

Every Sunday evening, public radio listeners around northern New Mexico tune in to a one-hour talk radio broadcast covering current events around the globe. While a news talk show isn’t unusual for the average public radio station, this one is very special. It’s created and led entirely by young people ages 13-25 who are learning honest media journalism and production through Generation Justice.

Generation Justice was founded nearly 13 years ago as a spin-off of a KUNM radio project. The organization aims to harness the power of media for social change and guide young people along the path of pursuing justice and community engagement.

While it is humbly funded and resources can often be a challenge, the multiracial and multicultural group works hard to tell as many stories as it can in its one-hour segment. Generation Justice is a fiscally sponsored project of the New Mexico Community Foundation and has an annual budget of about $350,000. Roberta Rael, the founder and director of Generation Justice, said she sees media as a platform not just to learn a new skill set, but also to create pathways for social justice and racial equity around the country.

“The institution of media in this country is very powerful,” Rael said. “Historically, media has been used as a vehicle to oppress people as well as a vehicle to empower communities. We’re very much about narrative shift and creating narratives that are culturally and racially appropriate, not just for New Mexico, but for the world.”

The weekly radio show, which is created by up to 10 youth plus the guests they invite onto the show, is a staple of Generation Justice’s work, but it doesn’t end there.

Working with participants between the age of 13 and 25, the organization trains young people on media journalism and production, all through the lens of social justice and equality. Working on the radio show not only teaches media production — calling an interviewee, sound editing and other skills — but also opens young people to connections they may not find elsewhere.

A Generation Justice participant in a studio. Photo courtesy Generation Justice.

Edgar Cruz, 24, is a media justice intern at Generation Justice. He says that his initial involvement in Generation Justice reshaped the way he consumed media and helped him to develop a more critical eye. He recently hosted a special edition of the radio show on race and the media for the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report.

“At a time when the truth seems to be missing in mainstream media, we’re combating narratives that aren’t telling the truth about New Mexicans or aren’t telling stories about New Mexicans at all,” Cruz said. “Giving life to the voices that exist and make sure they’re getting heard is building more truth and more power in community.”

Rael, who recently won the 2018 Spirit of Hope Direct Service Award, is a native New Mexican who has deep roots in the Albuquerque community. Her many connections along with the organization’s history mean the young journalists of Generation Justice are never at a loss for a story.

“The stories we tell are stories that frequently aren’t heard in New Mexico,” Rael said. “Not because people are voiceless, but because the institution of media is designed in a way that only a few people get the mic. So we change who has air time and who has the power of the microphone.”

That airtime goes to stories that empower communities to pursue social and racial justice. From an in-depth interview on immigration concerns on KUNM to community member spotlights covering topics like Islam, transgender identity and Native American traditions in videos on their YouTube channel, Generation Justice is bringing awareness to a myriad of issues. Meanwhile, young people are being trained in their craft by the small but effective Generation Justice staff, fellows, interns and more experienced program members. While older students work on video production, a newer member might learn how to log an interview or film B-roll. All along the way, they’re learning professionalism and communication skills.

Kenia Alonzo, 17, has been involved in Generation Justice for four years. She’s a 2018 winner of the Native American Journalists Association’s General Excellence in Student Coverage Award for her work on the program.

“Working on the radio show impacted how I present myself and how I speak,” Alonzo said. “I remember interviewing a Navajo woman from Utah named Cassandra. Interviewing her was like interviewing a role model. I was able to connect with her. At GJ, we cover Native Americans in the same way we cover any other community. All of our media is really inclusive.”

Kenia Alonzo (right) and another Generation Justice participant. Photo courtesy Generation Justice.

Those involved with Generation Justice are engaging in media education and careers beyond the program, too. Because the project has been running for 13 years now, they’re starting to see the younger siblings of Generation Justice alumni join in. Meanwhile, Rael has seen many former members go on to journalism school, media careers and grassroots activism. One alum even got a job with NPR.

“Our approach is positive youth development intergenerationally,” Rael said. “One of our success indicators is that young people don’t leave the program. We’ve had young people stay with us for years — four, five, eight years — all through middle school and high school and into college. Even if they go to college out of state, they still continue to engage.”

“There’s a cycle that happens at Generation Justice — young people come to work with us and in the process they fall in love with our community, they fall in love with all these unsung heroes who are doing amazing and hard work. Then, they start to understand themselves through identity, creating media around identity, and discussions about what’s happening in the world and what their role is. That’s really the heart of our work.”

Maureen Lunn
Maureen Lunn is a freelance writer in northern New Mexico.

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